Friday, 31 May 2013

End of year exams

End of year written exams took place yesterday and today and represented the culmination of year 1 of graduate entry medicine and sought to test us on everything taught since September (so 2/3rds of the pre-clinical basic sciences curriculum). To say that these exams were causing massive amounts of stress for everyone in the year would be the understatement of the century; up til now we'd only had formative exams in January which were shorter and tested us only on the modules taught during semester 1 (mostly fuzzy stuff like medical sociology and public health) but end of year exams are an entirely different kettle of fish however and would test us extensively on the anatomy, physiology, pathology, biochemistry etc of the different body systems we've studied so far this year. And even more scarily, they actually count and failing comes with pretty terrible consequences which I don't even want to think about (though I know they'll continue to rob me of my sleep until results day).

There were 20 sets of short answer questions spread across two papers - unlike the January exams we don't yet know how many questions you need to pass to pass the year overall (yes, I'm aware our examination system is unnecessarily convoluted), but usually it's 12/20 questions. On the whole I'm not sure how I feel about how I've done. This mainly stems from the fact that the two papers seemed to be trying to test us in completely different ways and I have no idea if the marks I've gained have been evenly distributed across enough questions to merit an overall pass:

Paper 1

Not fun. I didn't like this paper one bit. Throughout the year we've been taught in a very "here are the facts, now go away and memorise them" sort of way. This is a pretty common method of teaching at medical schools from what I know and unlike with biomedical sciences, there's no expectation to do extra reading or to be able to link two distinct aspects of science and to theorise about different things. For example, in our reproductive system module we've learnt about dysmenorrhea (painful periods) and the contraceptive pill, BUT, we've never been specifically taught how the Pill can be used to treat dysmenorrhea (i.e. the "linking" of the two principles). But in the exam yesterday there was a question on this very matter.

Well, I did the best I could and attempted to apply my knowledge of how the Pill works to the underlying causes of dysmenorrhea but since this was never explicitly stated in a lecture, I have no idea if what I'm saying is right or if I'm just "inventing" science.

This paper was on general very scattered and did not correlate well with the lectures we were given - questions were thrown in haphazardly and one set of questions i.e. worth 10% of the paper, was on the brain and neuroscience (we don't get taught neuro til next year) which resulted in a desperate attempt by me to scavenge some marks by a combination of guesswork and scribbling some likely sounding stuff I'd heard on Casualty the other week. This was a pretty disappointing experience if I'm perfectly honest with you - I'm almost certainly going to fail that question and it's not a fair representation of my talents (or my classmates' talents for that matter) since we were being examined on something which wasn't even taught.

Paper 2

Right, today's paper was much better which was a huge relief. It wasn't perfect and I definitely think I've screwed up some of the more minor questions on the musculoskeletal system, but on the whole, it was far more in line with our lectures and coursework and there weren't many questions which required "linking" of two distinct aspects of science. Frustratingly, I'm doing that thing I always do when I've done an exam i.e. obsess for hours about stupid little mistakes I've made and wonder if the examiner will be kind enough to turn a blind eye to them - it's mostly one mark and two mark questions, but they all add up!

Now what?

So now it's all over and the sun is out, so I'm going to take the weekend off and try and relax. I've been free of exam stress for about 6 hours now, and it's a very weird feeling - this huge cloud of stress has been hanging over my head for the past two months and now it's just...gone. I keep feeling guilty for not revising then I remember there's nothing to revise. I have OSCEs in under two weeks so I'll start preparing for those in a few days and after that I'm sure that my neuroticism will get the better of me and I'll start going through my written notes so I can be prepared just in case I need to do resits. But I really, really, really hope it doesn't have to come to that, I don't think there are any words which can describe just how much I want to not have to go through this whole rigmarole again in a few weeks!

Monday, 13 May 2013

End of first year

So as predicted in my last post, a few days ago I hit a low point, then started going up again. So currently I'm in a reasonably positive mood and I've been making some reasonable progress with revision (even with the dreaded immunology). Anyway, first year teaching finally came to and end last Friday and today we had to give patient case presentations for the SSM we've been doing this term (an SSM is like an optional module: everyone has to do one, but you get to pick which area you want to do it in).

If truth be told, I was rather annoyed at the medical school for landing this presentation on us so close to the end of year exams. Clearly everyone is likely to be very stressed out by revision at this time of the year and whilst the presentation itself is short, it still requires preparation, practice and effort - all of which dig into precious revision time. Like, couldn't it have been scheduled for after written exams? I'm almost certain the whole year would have been happy to stay on for a few extra days. Still, never mind, it's all over now.

It didn't go too badly I think. Admittedly, I'm comparing the experience to the last time I gave a presentation to a panel of examiners - this was in December 2011 and very early on during the Q&A session I realised I did NOT know as much about apoptosis as I thought I did. When I was asked a question to which I genuinely had no clue about, I did something which I'm sometimes prone to do in awkward scenarios, something which has very rarely (if ever) actually paid off: I decided to inject some humour into the proceedings. Cue a rather cringey joke on my part involving the band Deep Purple and haematoxylin & eosin staining (ha bloody ha ha). To say that the examiners were not amused would be an understatement, it was really rather reminiscent of the audition scene in Back to the Future:

Anyway, fast forward to May 2013 and thankfully I had slightly more of a clue about this presentation and actually managed to answer the follow-up questions without a) being caught like a deer in the headlights or b) resorting to telling rubbish jokes. I'm not saying I aced it, but I don't feel it went terribly either.

So with that, the final bit of year 1 coursework was done and I've been released into a two-and-a-half week void before the start of written exams and OSCEs. I just can't believe how quickly the year has gone, especially the second term (since January) - I feel like it should only just be the beginning of March now, but nope, here we are, almost halfway through the calendar year and with exams around the corner. Exams which aim to test me on two-thirds of the pre-clinical curriculum. Exams which are seeing most people in the year walk around either with a deadened look in their eyes or with the grim manic zeal which comes from too much caffeine and a subconscious realisation that time is fast running out. Exams which are technically passable (the existence of the second years proves this) but which don't feel passable a lot of the time.

Still, despite the horribleness of exams, I've really enjoyed my first year of medical school. I feel like I've learned a lot. About my own body, what can go wrong with it, and about how to interact with patients, the latter being something I'm really looking foward to learning much more about if/when I make it to the clinical phase of the course. I've been taken far out of my comfort zone, away from a city I call home, away from friends and family, but I feel that it's been worth it, because despite the horribleness of exams, I really do enjoy medicine and training to be a doctor. For the first time in my adult life, I've finished a year of education which I've genuinely wanted to do as an end in itself, and not as a stepping stone to some other course. That feeling of comfort and peacefulness has certainly been the best thing about this year. I just hope I can continue experiencing these positive feelings by passing into second year!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Fluctuating mood


Lately my mood has been fluctuating in terms of how I view revision and my chances of passing into second year. There are some days when I get up, feel positive, revise, get through my list of objectives for that day and go to bed feeling reasonably alright about my chances. I tell myself that every year the vast majority of people in GEP Y1 pass exams and progress to year 2. What's more, most of them pass on the first attempt. This is quite a comforting statistic. I tell myself that even if I'm not the smartest person on the course, I am at least of average ability (hopefully), and that if that's true, then if I put in the work I too should be able to pass along with all the other average people. Those days are good. I can look through a past paper without feeling panicky or like I don't have a clue about what I'm looking at. I can think up some reasonable answers, and when I check my notes a lot of the time I'm right too. It's an amazing feeling when you think you're progressing in the face of something as monolithic and massive as the content of the first year of an accelerated medical course.

Other days are just crappy from the off. I get up and from the outset I feel totally thick. Like someone's poured sand into my head overnight. I can't think straight and when I sit down to work I just feel really woolly and spaced out, like I've had too much to drink or like it's the first time I'm ever looking at this content (even though it isn't). It takes a long time for the content to sink in and when it does, it doesn't seem to stick around for long. I'll review the notes a few hours later and realise I've forgotten lots of details. Just in the space of a few hours. I'm not expecting perfect recall or anything, but a lot of the time it feels like I might as well have not bothered revising at all. If I look through a past paper on those days, none of it makes sense. I'll think of totally irrelevant or half-baked answers and most irritatingly of all, when I look through the answers afterwards, I actually realise that deep down I did know the answer to the question and that if I'd thought about it a bit harder I would have got it right. But for some reason, I just can't seem to make the connections in my mind at the time.

Today has been a day when I've felt pretty thick. I've been revising immunology and it's been really tough because there are so many different nitty-gritty little details to remember, and it doesn't seem to have been sticking. The only plus side is that after a crappy day like today, the only way is back up so I usually end up feeling a bit better for the next few days. It's an annoying cycle, but I can't really see a way out of it.

There are just over three weeks remaining til my first exam which means that in theory I should have enough time to be able to revise everything in order to make a decent attempt at passing the exam on the first go. But that's really dependent on having fewer crappy days like today and more of the efficient, feeling positive kinda days. In all fairness, I do mostly have positive days, but persevering through the negative ones can feel very tough at times.

It just feels like I'm stuck in the UCAS cycle again hoping against hope that I won't be rejected from medicine. Except now I'm actually here and I'm hoping against hope that I won't fail exams and have to leave medicine. The uncertainty and constantly feeling on edge really does sap all energy and life force out of you on some days.